Lapsed Ethics

The governor's new man on the state ethics board done us wrong

It's refreshing to hear, considering the cabal that is running our state these days (think Bush, House Speaker Tom Feeney, the rural Republican hard-liners from upstate, and the Miami gang of ideologically stunted Cuban conservatives). No wonder McCarty was singled out by Bankers.

There is no evidence that Grant had anything to do with that dirty piece of Nixonian espionage, but an administrative complaint filed just last year by the state Department of Insurance against Bankers alleges that Grant and other directors failed to investigate the company properly when they learned of the wiretapping. In effect, Grant was accused of failing to hold his own company to a high ethical standard.

Grant denies he ever knew about the illegal actions while he served on the board. "Not a single outside director was given knowledge about it," Grant says. "I would have told them it was a dumb thing to do, and I was shocked when I found out later."

He points out that he has never been the subject of a complaint to the ethics commission and that, when he requested an opinion from the commission about the $1500 from Bankers, he was cleared. Members reasoned that Grant didn't actively lobby for Bankers and that the money he received accounted for less than 1 percent of his annual income.

Grant, however, didn't ask for the ethics opinion until after the media exposed that he had received the money. And the commission's decision was dubious at best: He was ruled innocent, in effect, because he was rich and because he didn't lobby himself. The commission didn't explain what the definition of lobbying would be in the context of Grant, who strongly supported and voted for legislation favorable to Bankers.

This is the kind of flawed and pandering opinion the ethics commission has become famous for. For other ridiculous rulings made by the commission, see the cases of Plantation Councilman Jerry Fadgen and Pompano Beach Mayor Bill Griffin. Virtually anybody who has ever fought corruption or truly cares about clean government sooner or later develops an abiding disrespect for the commission, with its toothless, highly political commissioners and its long record of impotence.

After the Bankers' morass, Grant had more ethical controversies. In 1997, a spokesman for then-Florida Insurance Commissioner (and current U.S. Sen.) Bill Nelson told newspapers that Grant had made an unusual request: While chairman of the Banking and Insurance Committee, he'd asked Nelson to direct state legal work to his law firm. Nelson's spokesman, Dan McLaughlin, reported that Nelson felt the request was improper and denied it.

Grant says he didn't ask for any new contracts -- he just wanted to know why the insurance department had stopped assigning cases to his law firm, which, it turned out, had earned $508,000 in legal work from the insurance department while he served in the Senate.

Tawdry is right.

But Grant skated through these various crises and embarrassments and, ultimately, found in Jeb Bush his political doppelgänger. After the new governor took office, Bush began assaulting regulatory measures and giving breaks to business buddies who had filled his campaign coffers. In Grant, Bush found not only a staunch economic ally but a key member of the Republican base -- the Tampa senator was a card-carrying member of the Religious Right, a darling of the Christian Coalition. He is famous for his in-their-face criticism of gays, his bid to install the Ten Commandments in every classroom and courtroom in the state, and his failed bill to ban nude sunbathing.

So when Grant left office in 2000, Bush quickly appointed him executive director of the Public Guardianship Office, which oversees guardians who handle the affairs of the elderly and disabled who can't care for themselves. "Throughout his distinguished career, Sen. Grant has demonstrated a strong passion for upholding the law and preserving justice for all our people," Bush said at the time.

Yeah, and he should have added that Grant, who picked up a $75,000 state salary, has a record of giving insurance people even more justice than the rest of us. Are you starting to see how cynical and full of BS this man we call governor really is?

And Bush -- whose office didn't respond to my request for comment -- must have forgotten about gays and lesbians when he praised Grant's love of justice. In 1997, Grant threatened to cut funding for the University of South Florida when the great -- and gay -- diver Greg Louganis was slated to speak at the school. Grant wrote that the Louganis "presentation represents moral decadence and is an embarrassment to the university community." For Grant, Louganis wasn't an Olympic hero -- he was just another pervert.

Now that he's an ethics commissioner, I feel sorry for a commissioner from, say, Wilton Manors who has an ethical problem. But Grant swears he won't let his personal feelings about gays or his pro-business Republican political loyalties get in the way of fairness. "The law is the law, and I'm going to interpret the law whether it hurts or helps a Republican," he says. "And why would a person's sexual orientation have anything to do with an ethical complaint? Nobody can check their personal opinions at the door, but you have to be a person of character and decide you will not let those personal opinions affect your legal decision."

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